'Star Wars: The Bad Batch' Kicks Off With A Super-Sized Glimpse At The Aftermath Of Order 66

This review contains spoilers for the first episode of Star Wars: The Bad Batch.

"We're more deviant than defective," remarks one of the members of the five-soldier clone squad known as the Bad Batch. Their differences have rendered them outcasts, but it has also afforded them experiences not granted to the "reg" clone soldiers. After their debut in the final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the Bad Batch, clones with mutated and enhanced "defects" that deem them battlefield-worthy against the Separatist droid army, are back for the 70-minute premiere episode "Aftermath" on Disney+, now streaming to kick off the new animated series Star Wars: The Bad Batch. After The Clone Wars concluded on the image of the Republic cog symbol on a fallen clone's helmet, it is appropriate that the followup to Clone Wars focused on clones who were never quite the cogs of Republic-mandated ideals facing the aftermath of a soul-consuming war.

The leader Hunter, the brute Wrecker, the nerdy Tech, the cold sharpshooter Crosshairs, and the newly inducted Echo all are united by their pariah status and vocal performance by longtime clones voice actor Dee Bradley Baker, who flexes his knack for accentuating individuality among the clones while unifying them to a voice type. Their debut is a thankful upgrade from their potential-filled but woefully under-fleshed-out debut in Clone Wars, with the first episode here rounding out their dynamic and their relationship with the Republic structure.

All five are now processing the disintegration of their familiar structure. The confusion begins during a Republic mission on Kaller against the Separatists. The war seems to be ending with news of Obi-Wan Kenobi ambushing General Grievous. But without warning, the "reg" clone troopers (also Dee Bradley Baker) execute their Jedi commander Depa Billaba (Archie Panjabi, whose showcases no-nonsense mentor chops in a short amount of time), forcing her aggrieved Padawan to flee. Hunter pursues the poor Jedi student, but it's complicated by Crosshair's out-of-left-field determination to execute the Jedi child in the name of Order 66, an order that does not register to the rest of the Bad Batch.

Fight scenes are a strong suit for directors Steward Lee, Saul Ruiz, and Nathaniel Villanueva, but the emotional drama does not hit as well here, mainly because the most emotional moments feel front-loaded and rushed. "Aftermath" opens with a shocking sequence more suited as a third-act episodic conclusion than an opener: the execution of Depa and the fleeing of her Padawan Caleb Dume (Freddie Prinze Jr.), who will survive to become a Star Wars Rebels protagonist.

Coming a long way from the underdeveloped renderings of the 2008 Clone Wars pilot, modern Star Wars animation has evolved into compelling television. But the atmosphere of The Bad Batch, as well as its cut-to-the-chase approach, doesn't find the gravity of the human cost of Order 66, especially because an extra episode of breathing space was not allotted to flesh out the Bad Batch's relationship with Jedi—a dopey "What's Order 66?" delivered by Wrecker undercuts the serious tone. The few emotional beats that land involve close-up glances at Caleb's bewildered introspection at Hunter's futile attempts to reach him.

(In addition, those who read the 2015 tie-in Marvel comics series Kanan will be baffled here at the canonical override of Caleb Dume's backstory. But I digress.)

Hunter covers up Caleb's survival through a false death confirmation, one so obviously suspect that Crosshair is onto him and this sours their relationship (it seems odd that the rest of the Batch, especially Wrecker, has bonded with Caleb, and do not seem to grapple as much with Hunter claiming he caused Caleb's fatal plunge). Eventually, the clones return to Kamino and are surprised to find the reg clones acting more cold – unknowingly influenced by behavioral modification biochips. They are later acquainted with Omega (Michelle Ang), the child medical assistant of the long-necked Kamonian doctor Nala Se (Gwendoline Yeo), who takes a shine to the group and even instigates a mess hall food fight with them. Without stating it aloud, Hunter finds her appearance off-putting. With straw-colored hair and female-coding, she shares only a trace appearance with the assembly line of young male clones and she's distinctive enough that Hunter assumes she's not a clone and asks her the "Where are your parents?" question. Hilariously, her clone status was already obvious to Tech. But he isn't as weirded out by her appearance as much as he is unacquainted with the energy of a child.

Wilhuff Tarkin (Stephen Stanton), an officer of the incoming Empire, is onto them. He's set on conscripting soldiers — stormtroopers  —rather than clones in the future, not due to the ethics of breeding accelerated aging humans solely for war, but because of budgetary frugality. After a training test that resorts to live rounds, much to Clone Force 99's chagrin, he sends the Batch for a loyalty test to extinguish Onderon's insurgents. Quite predictably, they find that their targets are humans, not droids, and they're led by the hardened Saw Gerrera (Andrew Kishino). In a scene that wisely averts physical action in favor of talking things out, the Batch heed Saw's exposition about the crumbling galactic order. They must flee Tarkin's grip on Kamino, although Crosshair is resistant to desertion, and they intend to free Omega from Kamino as well.

The Bad Batch is as grimly-toned as the most serious of Clone Wars, which oscillated between dour and lighthearted across seven seasons, with a precocious child character being the obvious anchor point for young viewers (an Ahsoka Tano stand-in, if you will). Omega is easily the winsome heart of the series, with a voice performance by Ang bringing the script by Jennifer Corbett and Dave Filoni to life, making all the difference for a make-it-or-break-it child character. She imbues a sensitivity in the war-torn atmosphere and illuminates an innate interiority that motivates her wanderlust and cognizance of the stakes of a changing environment that she and the Batch don't understand. Her manner of sitting down with the chilly Crosshair in the prison cell to tell him, cryptically, "it's not your fault" suggests the series' ongoing emotional conflict. His reaction to it is enigmatic. He's unsure of how to respond to this warmth, and Tarkin takes him away before he can process it.

This brings us to Tarkin exploiting Crosshair's working brain chip, which forces him to assume the role of an antagonist hunter to his brothers. There's a juicy grappling here that the premiere could have fleshed out if it had granted time to know the Bad Batch's pre-Order 66 normalcy. Clone Wars illustrated that the clones' brain chip can alter original personalities and implant rage toward Jedi and perceived traitors in even loyal clones like Rex. It may be true that a biochip has inserted rage in the already crude Crosshairs, but it appears the chip heightened Crosshairs's long-existing outlooks. Did the chip influence Crosshairs' resistance to deserting? Did the chip program him to verbally dismiss the Onderon's civilians? Would those dissenting attitudes toward the right action have existed without his brain chip? The mystery here is more opaque rather than tantalizingly ambiguous since neither this premiere nor Clone Wars aptly explored his perspectives other than surface level glimpses. But as the Bad Batch and Omega flee to lightspeed toward more adventures, it's a mental state worth exploring for his future.

Other Thoughts:

- Most of the Bad Batch having lighter skin tones while the violent-prone Wrecker most closely resembles the brown profile of original live-action clone actor Temuera Morrison bears a mention and a raised eyebrow.

- Interesting to ponder Nala Se's clandestine motive to let Omega and the Bad Batch go.

- Fun fact: In the Kanan comics, the execution of Depa was considerably more graphic, with Depa and Caleb being forced to behead and strike down their own clone friends.